Stepping outside the box and challenging himself with newer heights is what keeps Alok Verma going as a food stylist and blogger.
Switching over from a career in medicine to food styling, Alok Verma has had an interesting journey. He believes in making the best out of the weirdest ideas and always ensuring his thoughts shine through even when working on a strict brand brief. In conversation with Social Samosa, he tells us more about his content creation process.
Looking back, where did it all begin?
It all started over four years as I was finishing my MBBS internship, realising that it wasn’t something I could do for years to come. Food has always played a pivotal role in my life. I remember baking with my mum in our kitchen since I was about four or five. So I started my food blog, All About That Palate, and found that I was better at composing food images than most other things in life. That’s how I chose to become a food stylist, interning with experienced people to learn the craft.
What’s in the name?
It wasn’t my first choice, to be honest. I somehow always wanted to call my blog “Chocolate and Zucchini’ as I was known for my weirdly interesting chocolate and zucchini cake. But it was an already existing blog name. Hence, I had to brainstorm and come up with something that could be all about savouring, tasting, relishing and experiencing simple joys of food, hence chose to stick with All About That Palate.
What is your USP in this cluttered space? How does your content give you an edge?
Food Styling is still a very niche concept in India and not a lot of people are aware of everything it entails. My work revolves around the play of colour compositions by utilising freshness and vibrance of food and ingredients and a certain play of the right props and backdrops against a grungy and moody food scene. It’s eventually all about standing out from the rest; thereby when you look at an image, you’d know that it’s mine.
Please take us through your content creation process. How do you stay relevant and relatable?
When there’s a certain existing trend in food photography, you have got to stay within that zone and do everything possible to make your content stand out from the rest. But sometimes, you’ve got to create your own new trends. I work well in advance of the shoot day, by making sure I’ve understood the brand brief, after which I formulate my own mood board, source the relevant props, sometimes create my own backdrops, coordinate with the brand team on the plan, all of this at least a week prior to the shoot so that everything is systematic and the work does not look rushed.
How do you make moolah with your efforts?
A food stylist can earn anything between Rs. 5000 to Rs. 35000 in a day. All of this depends on how much experience you have in the industry, how powerful your portfolio is, which brands you’ve worked within the past and certainly, your networking and pitching skills. Since it’s still niche and not a lot of people are doing it, the demand is high so there’s certainly a good inflow of the buck if you’re planning to pursue it full time.
How do you maintain editorial objectivity with the influx of brand briefs?
Being correct isn’t everything. Sometimes, you have your own ideas, which may be technically right, but do not sit well with brand briefs. The brand is someone else’s brainchild, at the end of the day. Hence, you have to stick within the limitations and still do your best with the tools you have. I have certainly faced a lot of issues with the same, but I’ve realised the more I engage with the brand representatives and the more I get them on board with planning my shoot, the better the outcome is.
One instance/experience that made it all worthwhile
I won two consecutive awards for India’s best food stylist in 2015 and 2016 at the IFBA and received one of these from the most experienced food stylist existing in the country right now, Chef Nitin Tandon, who whispered in my ear while handing over the award to me, “You’re doing a fine job. Stay true to what you believe in.” That makes all the effort, the transition from medicine to food styling and the toiling over the last 4 years worth it.
Weirdest brand brief/request ever
I’m all about making the best out of weird ideas and putting a bit of me in it but once a brand asked for excessive photoshopping of a product to be shot after sending across a heavily damaged product, which is not done. I did my best anyway but made certain the brand knew how unprofessional that was.
If not a food stylist, you would be?
Certainly not continuing medicine, if that’s your first guess. If not this, I’d probably be pursuing Culinary Arts, and particularly, Pastry in a school of significance.
A day in your life…
I’m an early riser. I’m up by 6, off to the gym for about an hour or sometimes, two, back to gorge on a heavy breakfast and then off to work. I work for about 8 to sometimes 12 hours a day, depending on the intensity of the shoot, back home in the evening to cook dinner and probably enjoy an episode on Netflix before crashing around midnight. The work can get stressful quite often, but I ensure I exercise daily and meet all my macros with the food I consume.
Message/tips for upcoming food photographers
Stay true to your content. Be original. Do not steal anybody else’s work and certainly do not badmouth others in the industry who are working as hard as you. Keep learning and growing. This will help you as an artist and a person. And most importantly, do not make your work monotonous. Step outside the box and try challenging yourself with heights you haven’t reached yet.
Your Favorite Influencer
Someone I personally admire and one of the first few people who were synonymous with the whole concept of Food Styling in this country, Deeba Rajpal from Delhi, who runs a very successful blog called Passionate About Baking.
The Future you foresee for your Personal Brand
Currently, I work with a partner and an intern. But I’m working on growing my team and eventually having a studio setup, all of which I’m planning to accomplish within the next few years.